After five days of heavy rain, it is wonderful to see the sun beginning to light up the potager. So, gathering my harvest baskets and camera, I waded through the puddles to see how things had changed during the deluge. The first observation was the many cottonwood leaves that have already come down and settled into the flower beds. It seems early, but it is almost mid-September so apparently it’s time. Entering the potager, there were “waves” in the paths from mulch being swept along. Some of the landscape cloth is entirely clear but there are tall piles of mulch here and there. To the naked eye, the potager looks perfectly level, but heavy rains like those we’ve had recently reveal the truth. There is a slight slope from the southwest corner to the northeast corner. There’s lots of raking to level things out in my future. (Sigh!) Can’t help but smile as I pass the “Wando” peas. They were blooming before the rains began, but now there are dozens of pods forming. With the five days of 95 degree heat and high humidity before the rains came, I wondered, but “Wando” has a reputation for tolerating heat and extremes and it looks like they deserve that good rating. I’ve never grown parsnips before, so I was thrilled to see they’ve grown a good 4″ taller since the rain started. That’s exciting! And the “Butterscotch” winter squashes really added some pounds in my absence. They’ll be ready to harvest soon, but note that dreaded squash bug just to the right of squash! They had a big party while I was indoors reading and listening to the rain, inviting all their friends for an orgy and laying eggs on every leaf in the area. I’ll be paying for that lack of vigilance. Remember those baby rows of radishes in my last “Six on Saturday”? Well, here they are today, ready to harvest! I’d love to report that they were lovely, but those days of heat made them a bit tough and HOT! Too spicy for my palette, but maybe they’ll mellow out a bit if they’re cooked lightly and added to a pasta salad. Those dratted spotted cucumber beetles didn’t take a break during the rains either. They are everywhere, chewing on squash blossoms, bean leaves, and everything else. There were at least 10 in this one squash blossom when I pulled it open, but all but the four who decided to pose for the photo escaped. I suppose I should do something about their excessive numbers, but after reading “The Prodigal Summer” during the rains I am reluctant. (Loved the book, by the way and if you have any interest in butterflies, moths, nature’s balance, etc. you probably will, too, although it was a bit sexy for my old-fashioned tastes.) Once the leaves were dry, I picked various beans. The Cannellini worried me, as some of the pods had black moldy spots. Upon opening, the beans inside seemed fine, although surprisingly some of them had actually sprouted inside the pods! And so, a lovely afternoon was spent harvesting “Dragon Tongue,” “Jade II,””Cannellini,” and “Inspiration” beans. They aren’t quite as nice as the earlier harvests because of the holes made by those cucumber beetles (WHY don’t they just stick to cucumbers???” And, they weren’t all supposed to be ready to pick at the same time, but despite careful planning according to the maturity dates, they are! There were also jalapeno, red sweet cherry and bell peppers; a couple of cukes, a handful of radishes, two pounds of beets, and over two pounds of carrots. I could have left the carrots, but I’m readying that bed for the strawberry runners that are beginning to form on the “Honyone” June-bearing plants. It’s lovely to know that even while I remained inside during the five days of rain, the potager was busily doing its thing, providing pounds and pounds of good eating!
August has never been my favorite month, not sure why but it’s usually hot, the kids go back to school, the garden is normally winding down a bit. Things grow a tad more slowly and the greens change from emeralds to olives. Generally, as was the case again this year, leaves from the cottonwoods begin to fall, even though it’s not supposed to be officially “FALL” in August. The cicadas’ songs become more strident and the birds start grouping into flocks.
This year, August has been a bit more pleasant, with some cooler evenings and adequate rain so there wasn’t the usual hose-dragging. I’ve enjoyed putting in the late plantings more and they are doing better than last year. I’ve decided to do a better job at extending the protager’s productivity, and it certainly seems willing to keep going if I am! Already the “Dragon Tongue” beans, planted July 6th are producing, the Jade II beans are setting tiny threads of infant beans and there’s a variety of new lettuces to pick (not shown but there’s LOTS on other beds!) This diagonal double row in the center is the very last planting of beans for this year, a variety called “Speedy” that’s growing nicely. They were planted August 15, and with a maturity of 50 days, it will be all Mother Nature’s benevolence if they produce, because the days are getting shorter. But it’s worth the gamble because every week that there’s a meal of fresh beans for the table, it’s one less jar of canned beans that I need to process. We’ve had fresh beans to use since June 17, so that’s 11 jars not needed and I believe we’ll have them through September, so that will be two canners-ful not required! Lots of energy saved there. All of the early potatoes have been tipped out of their pots, and now the “German Butterball” are being harvested as needed, and of course there’s still lots of indeterminate tomatoes and various peppers coming to the kitchen daily. Young beets are ready to harvest and three varieties of spinach are growing well. The “Wando” peas are nearly at the top of their fence and promising a good crop. And just take a moment to notice those “Hot Pak” marigolds. As edging, they still look fantastic and are holding up much better than the “Boy” series I’ve grown in the past. And, while I was in Italy, a few dropped seed and I’m delighted to report that the new plants are growing “true” so seed can be collected for next year’s edgings. The “Cannellini” beans seem to realize that their time is limited and are putting out even greater numbers of pods and blooms. I love sitting under their shade now, but looking at this photo makes me realize I need to paint that bench once the beans are gone. The hummingbirds are enjoying the blooms, although I’ve never seen them at the any other varieties of beans in the potager. Maybe it’s simply because the blooms are up high. The black-eyed peas are still producing and I’ve really enjoyed growing them this year as a trial crop. Something nibbled the tops of the recently-seeded snow peas, so not sure how well they’ll do. There’s lots of baby carrots growing nicely in various beds, but this row is “Kuroda”, a variety that is especially good for storage. The row next is bunching onions, which will provide green onions well into late autumn and early winter. Here and there are short rows of kale, turnips, and radishes There are mountains of winter squash vines here and there in the potager. Right now, it looks like “Butterscotch” will be most numerous. I clipped the ends of all of the vines this week in hopes that energy will go to maturing the fruits already set on. I doubt there will be pumpkins although the replanted “Baby Bear” do have a couple of tennis-ball sized fruit. That’s pretty iffy, but it’s more than they accomplished last year. Eventually, through trial and error apparently, I’ll get the timing right…if I live long enough! All these baby crops are a gamble and their success just depends, as usual, on when the first frost occurs, but for now, things look really good! (Knock wood!)
And now to the numbers! Last year’s August production was 181.0 pounds, the bulk coming from pulling all the onions, with tomatoes, summer squash, peppers & melons at full harvest as well. This year was less, only 177.75 pounds, largely due to the death of most of the squash and melon vines, but also partly because I intentionally planted fewer tomatoes. We just couldn’t use them all last year and there are still canned ones on the shelves. Last year I canned 100 jars of food in August. This year only 86…I’m out of jars and shelf space. Guess we need to eat more canned goods labeled “2017.”
As much as I’d like to deny it, September is here. The leaves are already piling up along the sidewalk from the big cottonwoods along the driveway. It’s time to evaluate the performance of the annuals. In my gardens, they are the workhorses that carry the heavy load of continual bloom through the hot, hot often dry months of summer so they must be outstanding. It has taken years of trial and error to find varieties that can deliver the color I want without a lot of work. Here are the six reliable annuals that work for me here in central Indiana. 1) Marigold “Durango”. Yes, I’ve raved about this tough, gorgeous anemone-flowered marigolds before but they deserve every word of praise. The flowers are large, 2-2 1/2″ and come in a range of colors from deep red to lemon yellow, with oranges, soft orange and bi-colors as well. 2) Celosia “Fresh Look Orange” really comes into its own when the weather turns hot and will be durable until frost. About 15″ tall, so despite heavy blooms it requires no staking. It’s a great cut flowers, and holds its color for dried arrangements as well. If orange isn’t your color, it also comes in yellow, red, gold, and rose. 3) Zinnia “Profusion Double Deep Salmon” stays compact (10″) and tidy all season. It doesn’t even really require deadheading because new flowers keep appearing that hide the old ones as they fade. The Profusion series is disease-resistant and comes in a Cherry, Gold, White,Yellow and Fire (deep orange.) I prefer the double series, although the standard single Profusion series was an All-American winner when it first came out. 4) Ageratum “Blue Horizon” is a tall, sky-blue fluffy flower that is also a good cut flower with strong stems. The butterflies adore it and the blue makes the orange and apricot flowers in the garden pop, as do these white “Helen Campbell” cleome that add some height (3′) and light to the back of the border here and there. It’s a self-seeder but I usually start a few indoors so they will bloom a bit earlier. And for those really hot, dry spots right along the sidewalk 6) Portulaca “Happy Hour Orange” fills in an amazing amount of space for such tiny leaves, and never quits blooming despite the weather. The “Happy Hour” series has really improved the performance of this old favorite, often called “Moss Rose.” They come in yellows, white, reds, pinks, rose. They can even survive life in the Lady Cottage window box, which dries out so quickly & I often forget to water! All six of these annuals
So that’s a simple “Six on Saturday” but they make me smile every day in the garden. To see what makes other gardeners smile, check out all the “SOS” posts at The Propagator, the host and creator of this meme.
There are a couple of loose ends from prior posts that need tying up. First of all, I promised a reader to post of photo of the mystery watermelon, the “pollinator” that was provided with the non-germinating “Twilight” seedless watermelons, so here it is. It actually was a fairly good melon, a bit over 4 lbs and not excessively seedy with a striped exterior and there were several of them. I’m not totally unhappy but seedless would have been nice. Secondly, a final report on the French Fingerling potatoes. I had such high hopes for them, as they were reportedly very good candidates for growing in pots. Five pounds of “seed” potatoes were purchased ($14.95) and planted in twenty-two 4 gallon pots (2 good eyes per pot.) They grew beautifully, in fact possibly too well because the tops were 3′ tall! I accept the blame for this for in my eagerness to have them do well, the soil mixture was probably too rich, causing lots of leaf production but few potatoes. The total return, of very, very small (most were marble-sized!!!) was only 7 pounds!!! However, they had a very good flavor and I think I’ll give them one more go next spring, but use no composted cow manure in the pots at all. I did really like growing potatoes in pots rather than digging, and it makes my crop rotation easier (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers cannot follow one another since they are cousins.) And if I’d been digging, I’d probably have missed the majority of those marble-sized ones.
I’m also wondering if our excessive heat early on in the season, and having the potatoes above ground in black pots might have contributed to the problem. They grew well, grew tall, and promptly grew yellow, then brown and done. Although, in pondering the situation, then the pots facing south should have been the first to go, and they weren’t…..so, still pondering the changes for next year’s planting. Any suggestions?
It’s time for the potager’s early tomato comparison featuring this year’s competitors: last year’s winning “Polbig” and this year’s challenger, “Siletz.” Both were seeded and handled identically, and planted out the same dates, same number of plants (8), etc. “Polbig” is a hybrid determinate from Pinetree Seeds, who said it “sets fruit in cool weather, tastes good with excellent dark red color inside and out, between 3 1/2 and 6 oz per fruit. 56 days.” I would add that it has good disease resistance and a very meaty interior with fewer seeds than many varieties. Even my mother, a faithful “Rutgers” fan for 70 years asked for some “Polbig” plants again this year, after having them the past two. The total season production weight comparison is Polbig 33.75 pounds; Siletz, 18 pounds, but it was the quality of the fruit that made “Polbig” the big winner for the third year in a row. It’s the one on the right, obviously bigger.
“Siletz” is from Seeds N Such, who writes “the best combination of extreme earliness and big, slicer-type fruits. Mature in only 52 days with big, deep red 8-10 oz fruits that are tasty and nearly seedless. Determinate.” “Siletz” did produce the first full-size (that is, not cherry-size) ripe tomato on July 9, while the first “Polbig” wasn’t ripe until July 15. Overall “Siletz” fruit was slightly smaller in size, but many of them had cracks and splits around the tops and didn’t make it to the kitchen. None of mine were in the 8-10 oz range, but they did have good flavor. However, they were done producing on August 13 so the vines were pulled. “Polbig” continued to produce nice-sized ripe fruit for another week, with several less than ripe and green tomatoes going into chutney. The space was needed for late cabbages!
So, obviously “Polbig” will be planted next year, along with another contender. If you want to suggest a candidate, please comment!
the size of your finger.” So begins my maternal grandmother’s recipe for sweet pickles that take ten days in a crock with daily attention before canning. It’s raining again today (over 7″ since Thursday) so rather than gardening I’m thinking and remembering. Throughout childhood, I spent a week every summer, and dinner once a month on Sunday at my grandparents, yet I can’t remember any foods or special dishes there except sweet pickles and a date pudding with a syrup one Christmas. My grandmother was an abysmal cook, but she made terrific sweet pickles. For my bridal shower recipe book, I requested grandmother’s recipes for sweet pickles (shown above) and the date pudding. I cherish both, because she passed away shortly after my wedding. I chose grandma’s 4 gallon pickle crock shown here as my memory gift, although these days it sits by a rocker holding gardening magazines and seed catalogs rather than brine.
I haven’t made those sweet pickles since my homesteading days, because there are never 100 cucumbers the size of my finger. The potager’s first year, heirloom “Parisian” cucumbers were planted on one trellis because they were touted as being perfect, tiny cucumbers for cornichons. They are indeed, but they don’t have the same texture or shape as grandma’s and one trellis was definitely not enough. Last year, I tried “Homemade Pickles” which were touted as disease resistant, and were okay shape-wise, but there weren’t even enough for a half-batch before the vines succumbed to some disease. This year I was determined to succeed and planted “Calypso.” These are lovely little finger-sized cucumbers, although it appears this year will be another failure. The first planting produced very few before dying, and now some leaves of the second crop which looked so promising are wilting. This year, the squash bugs are more abundant than ever in memory, the young ones with their ghostly round bodies and black eyelash legs like spiders. Whenever I see them (and it’s always a them, never a lone individual) a vision of silly little animated Disney-imagined characters fills my mind. I can almost hear them singing. I can’t tell you how many I have literally squashed. Add to that armies of spotted cucumber beetles, notorious disease carriers every one. I captured this one swimming in one of the many puddles surrounding the raised bed where the cucumbers are growing. I didn’t even think about throwing him a life jacket. And I won’t even discuss squash borers.
So, I’ve been sitting here, watching the rain and feeling glum because I can’t grow, let alone “pick 100 cucumbers the size of my finger” until I suddenly realized I also don’t remember my grandmother ever, ever having a garden! Not even a tiny plot or container of lettuce! Which is probably why it says “prepare 100 pickles the size of your finger.” No reason at all to feel guilty about not being able to pick them! I think I’ll be visiting the farmers’ market!
Let’s call this one “The Effects of Rain!”
1) The lawn mower broke earlier and needs parts, so of course it began to rain, and rain, and rain…5″ in a day and a night when we’d already had rain aplenty last week! The grass literally jumped for joy and is knee-high in spots. We think it knows the mower is “on vacation.” But notice on the right side, all the grass that is totally flattened by rushing water that will be impossible to mow in its prone position. 2) Although I’d rushed out to the potager to pick any tomatoes that were close to ripe before the storm, even those that were barely turning color are now split and ugly. That’s a “Goliath” which would have been delicious, but will now become “Disaster Tomato Chutney” thanks to Richard at “Sharpen Your Spades,” one of my favorite blogs.
3) Lots of rain followed by heat add up to germinating seeds and these tiny lettuces took advantage of the weather to pop up in the paths. Will I transplant them into rows in beds? Maybe, maybe not. There’s already volunteer and planted lettuces in several places. 4) The “Wando” peas have also appreciated the rain and grew nearly 7″ in the last two days! If you look carefully you can see a bloom or two already. 5) The spearmint had been languishing in our hot August, but with the abundant rains last week and this week it is flourishing. I see a Hugo or two in my future this weekend! And lastly 6) when you can’t garden you can! That’s 10 qt. plus a pint of elderberry cordial put up this week, plus pickled cipollini, pickled jalapenos, diced tomatoes and tomato juice. Broccoli, pepper strips and black-eyed peas were also frozen….and I had time to read a book, “The Swan Thieves,” which I thoroughly enjoyed!
That’s my “Six on Saturday” for mid-August (how can that be already?) and I’ve attempted to be less wordy, as requested in the guidelines posted by our host for this meme, The Propagator. Click on the link, and if you’re lucky it will take you there for lots more “Six on Saturday” posts.